The Founder - Jack Townend (1872-1949)
Jack, like so many successful Victorian businessman, came from a working class background. He left school and was apprenticed at Earles Shipyard in Hull. A fine sportsman, he played professional Rugby, captaining Hull Football Club. Jack decided to cash in his popularity as a sportsman, and in 1893 left the shipbuilding industry and became the tenant of the Good Ship Molly public house in Dock Street renaming it ‘The Rugby House’.
In 1900 he moved to the Bull Hotel on Beverley Road, and whilst there started to bottle Guinness, which he then sold to pubs and clubs, including his own, despite being a tied house! In 1906, the brewery woke up to the fact that he had not bought Guinness for a year and threw him out. With a young family and nowhere to live, Jack acted quickly and bought a grocery, wine and spirit business. Not long after he stopped selling groceries and specialised in wine and spirits.
Jack’s main interest was always his beer bottling company. In 1911 he had taken over Faloon & Company, and by 1914 he had the largest beer bottling company in the country. During the war (1914-1918) beer supplies were Government controlled and all the Guinness for Hull was consigned to Faloons.
Post WW1 Jack was joined in the business by his twin sons, Charles and Jack, and the business continued to expand. Although he remained Chairman of the company until he died, he progressively handed over to the twins with the eldest, Charles, eventually becoming guardian.
The Second Generation - Charles Hope Townend (1899-1977)
Charles was responsible for developing J Townend from a single shop into a significant business. He and his twin brother attended Hull Grammar School where he had dreams of becoming either a doctor or an engineer. However, as was typical of the Victorian businessman, his father steered the boys into the family business.
Both boys left school at 14 and joined the business but in 1917 the army summoned. Charles became part of the Royal Flying Corp, qualifying and receiving his wings just before the end of the war. After being demobbed the two returned to the business, Jack to the office and Charles delivering beer to wholesale customers. With the advent of motor-lorries, Charles was dispatched to work at the first ever garage in Hull, to learn how to maintain motor vehicles.
Charles’ ambitions grew. He persuaded his father to form another wine and spirit company based in a retail shop at the corner of Cave Street, with the intention of developing the wholesale business. They began by buying a cask of bulk port and a cask of bulk sherry, bottled and labelled them by hand, then sold them to public houses and clubs. The wholesale business quickly expanded requiring them to build a new warehouse on the same street.
By the 1920s and 30s brewers started buying more outlets which made life difficult for Townend’s wholesale business. Therefore Charles decided to expand further by acquiring two wine merchant shops, one being Brown Walker & Atkin, and the other J J Rippons. Along with Rippons, the Whisky brand Dalmeny was acquired, which became the company’s own brand whisky for many years. It was with the acquisition of these fine old wine merchants that the firm first made its mark on the fine wine trade, and by 1939 the company was operating six branches.
In the 1940s Charles built up a substantial trade in rum under the name Red Duster and by 1949 when his father died, he became Chairman of the company. The company expanded further in the 1950s and three more shops were opened. In 1959, Charles’ son John joined the company taking over the day-to-day running while Charles remained Chairman until his death in 1977 aged 78.
The Third Generation - John Ernest Townend
John was born in 1934, the only child of Charles and Dorothy. He was educated at Hymers College in Hull, then went on to join Chartered Accountants, Smailes, Holtby & Gray, as an articled clerk.
In 1959 John joined the House of Townend as Company Secretary and Financial Director and by 1961 he had taken over as Managing Director and set about expanding the company further.
He increased the number of retail shops to 35 and developed the importing and wine bottling business, first wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy and vintage Port, and then gradually from most other European wine producing countries.
John opened the first bonded warehouse in Hull for 60 years, where whisky was blended, gin and vodka compounded and Keelings Advocaat produced. He also established a cash and carry, developed a national agency business and continued local wholesaling. Retail shops were his forte though and he would walk the pavements assessing suitable locations for a new off license!
In 1966 John founded the first national, voluntary group of independent wine merchants - The Independent Wine Merchants Association Limited, now called Merchant Vintners, and he remained Chairman until he retired taking the role of Life President in 2000.
With the continuing expansion of the company, John moved head office from the rear of the Beverley Road shop to the bonded site of Red Duster House on York Street with a grand opening carried out by Comté Robert-Jean de Vogüé, the Président-Directeur General of Moët et Chandon.
Following a further career in politics John Senior handed over Managing Directorship to his son, John Charles in 1992.
The Fourth Generation - John Charles Townend
John Charles Townend was born in 1965, the eldest son of John Ernest and Jennifer. He got involved in the company at an early age when as a young school boy he spent his Saturday mornings delivering orders with House of Townend’s longstanding van driver, Walter Redhead, who regaled John with stories about his great grandfather, and then during his teens his summer holidays were spent working in the warehouse and on the bottling line.
After leaving Oundle in 1984, John spent a year working in the wine trade in France before going to Warwick University to read Management Science and finally joined the family company full time in 1988.
At this time, House of Townend was still very retail orientated, but the market was changing quickly with the rise of the supermarket, and so John Charles set about steering the company towards supplying hotels and restaurants and it is this which became the company’s focus over the next twenty years. The acquisitions of Cachet Wines in 1994 and then Playford Ros in 2009 helped consolidate this move into the wholesale sector.
2011 saw the move to new, modern, purpose built headquarters in Melton on the outskirts of Hull, comprising offices, a dedicated logistics team, warehouse and temperature controlled bonded storage along with our retail outlet the Cellar Door. We were lucky enough to have Alexandra Pereyre de Nonancourt, from the owning family of Laurent Perrier, fly out to England to carry out our grand opening!
2012 saw further expansion when the company acquired Lakeland Vintners, based in Ings, near Kendal, a company that has supplied some of the finest hotels in the Lake District for many years.
In recent years our focus has been on developing our online platform for both our wholesale and private customers. A new website was launched in 2016 with a continuous programme of developments thereafter. House of Townend is now 114 years old and whilst we are passionate about our heritage, we are also determined to remain very much in the present, both in our wine buying policy and in the way we run our business.